YSU Research Looks At Using Stem Cells to Help Heal Wounds


By Lauren Foote


Diana Fagan and Mark Womble are working in collaboration with other professors to determine whether stem cells can be used to improve repair of muscles following surgery.


Fagan and Womble are working alongside YSU professors Johanna Krontiris-Litowitz, Hazel Marie, Yong Zhang and the surgical research division at St. Elizabeth Health Center. The group encompasses the departments of biological sciences, mechanical and industrial engineering and computer science and information systems.


Fagan’s lab is harvesting and culturing stem cells from bone marrow to be implanted in rabbits or rats following surgery. They are also examining wound tissues to determine collagen deposits at the site of the wound.


Krontiris-Libowitz’s lab will examine the chemical characteristics of the collagen produced at the wound site, while Marie’s lab will test the tensile strength of the resulting scar.


Zhang is analyzing the tissue using videography and comparing those results to the tensile analysis performed by Marie.


Fagan was approached by Jeremy Heffner at St. Elizabeth to investigate improvements in surgical methods to prevent recurring herniation following surgery.


Womble said abdominal muscles are important for rotating the body, which creates a problem.


“In human surgeries, when those muscles contract they are pulling on the wound site and they tend to have a potential to open up to any kind of motion,” Womble said.


Fagan said the goal of the research is to make the tissue heal stronger so that it doesn’t tear.


“Our hope is to lay a foundation for the development of products that promote wound healing.” Fagan said.


They began using 1 million stem cells but have reduced the number in order to be able to move the research to a human model.


“Human models are not inbred like the rats are, so you have to get the stem cell sample from the same person,” Fagan said. “They wanted to know the minimum dose that would get a positive effect.”


They put the stem cells into a piece of collagen tape inserted in the wound, which acts like a sponge.


They are examining the optimal growth conditions to help the cells bind to various mesh materials used in hernia surgeries.


Once they remove the tissue post surgery, Womble uses a staining technique to determine the strength.


“We can look at which wound healed better, stem cell or no stem cell,” Womble said. “We can see the difference in collagen development depending on the amount of stem cells that we used.”


Fagan said the technique has been effective.


“[The stem cells] definitely sped up the process of healing and made it stronger, even stronger than original tissue,” Fagan said.


They began the studies using a rabbit model, but in order to reduce costs and increase reproducibility they have been using rats. Rabbits also required working at an outside lab.


Budget cuts have also reduced the frequency with which the surgeons come to the lab.


Fagan said the students helping with the research are learning a diverse range of skills, including growing bacteria cells in culture, growing viruses and doing DNA and protein analyses.


“They learn a lot of techniques that they can move into other fields,” Fagan said


Marta Burak is one of the graduate students working in Womble’s lab.


“This project is very interesting. I have already learned some essential techniques,” Burak said. “I hope we will get some good results and will be able to pursue it further.”


The work was supported by four St. Elizabeth grants, a national grant and a YSU grant and has resulted in four publications, one paper in preparation, one international abstract and presentation, four national abstracts and presentations, five masters theses and one thesis in progress.